Breaking a 30-year boycott with lunch at the Savoy
Published 20 July 2003 News Review 523rd article
Backroom boys: Winner, flanked by King, left, and Wareing, right, with kitchen staff at the Savoy Grill (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I've been to the newish Savoy Grill three times. The first, just after they opened, was disappointing. It's a Gordon Ramsay presentation with his cohort Marcus Wareing in charge.
I used to be a regular at the Savoy Grill. I once told the restaurant manager what I thought of tough meat, watery vegetables and general rubbish. "Give us a break mate, will yer!" he said in unmitigated cockney. I was so shocked I stayed away for 30 years. Until one Sunday, when I phoned the Savoy and asked for the Grill. This produced an endless recording saying my call would be answered soon, intermixed with: "If you don't want to hold on please send your request by fax." How ludicrous can you get?
Eventually the Savoy's manager booked for me. The Grill is mostly brown. I assumed it was designed by the dreaded David Collins. But it wasn't. Smoked salmon and gravadlax were served from a trolley. "Where did this salmon come from?" I asked Simon King, the excellent restaurant manager. "Scotland," he said.
"I mean which supplier?" I continued. "Is it from Forman in the East End?" Simon returned and said it was. It was dried out and rubbery. Must have been in the fridge too long. "Not nearly as good as at the Dorchester," said Geraldine. She was right - and it's Forman's salmon there. On my later visits the salmon was fine.
Then I had the omelette Arnold Bennett. "It's made with smoked haddock and Gruyere cheese," explained Simon, as if I knew nothing about food. Which is correct. I thought it wonderful. Very delicate taste, vastly memorable. They've got a Chateau Margaux 1961 at £2,500 ex gratuity. They're £484 a bottle in auction. I lunched a few days later with a delightful and famous food critic. He found his Arnold Bennett too runny.
On my Sunday visit I thought I'd ordered steak and kidney pie but it was steak and kidney pudding. The steak and kidney were all mushy. Tiny bits, no discernible taste, covered in suet.
The third time I had the same thing by mistake. The pieces of steak and kidney were now much bigger. It was a reasonable dish. But I still prefer pastry to suet. Geraldine had chicken. She thought it "absolutely scrumptious". They declined to do pommes souffles, instead I got little new potatoes, fried. They were okay.
On my first visit the dessert trolley looked like leftovers after a Jewish wedding. I had a chocolate and raspberry delice, a moussey thing, which was very pleasing. Then some cookies of crushed almonds, a chocolate marron and an "Italian saboardi", I dictated, but I was probably wrong. On my Sunday lunch visit all three were tired. Again, I think the refrigerator had taken its toll. On my two subsequent lunches they tasted fresher and good.
Simon King came and said: "Would you like to come to the kitchen?" It was a call for our photo. "I haven't finished my meal. I suppose Marcus wants to go home," I replied. "The time is just right," said Simon tactfully. "Marcus has a taxi waiting for him," I murmured as I rose to oblige. After the picture Marcus rushed off to Chelsea for the football.
On my second visit I had "terrine of rabbit loin and shoulder with roast hazelnuts, confit leeks, hazelnut dressing". It was a cold slice, passable at best. I shared my chateaubriand with a top restaurateur. I found it superb. He thought the texture was good but it lacked flavour.
The cheese trolley, requested by the food critic, took for ever. I saw it peeping out of the kitchen, then they pulled it in again. Then it rested, a few tables away. "Fellows, please, the trolley has wheels on! Bring it over," I suggested. I had a Colombian creamy cheese and a Roquefort. Both delightful. I liked my over-refined trifle in a champagne glass even though it lacked sponge. Gordon Ramsay's Savoy Grill is highly satisfactory. But Angela Hartnett at the Connaught remains Gordon's best hotel makeover.
Last weekend I attended Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sydmonton Festival. A magnificent arts "do" he and his astounding wife Madeleine organise with unbelievable skill. Rhubarb did the food. Mass catering is usually poor. Every aspect of this was close to brilliant. There was also an amazing mind reader, Derren Brown. If I hadn't seen it myself, I wouldn't have believed what he did was possible.
The high point was act one of Andrew's new musical The Woman In White. This was particularly moving and with a stunning plot. The music was great, the cast terrific, the lyrics and book outstanding. I immediately offered £100.000 as an investment. I'm an angel.
It's nice to know Savile Row tailors are still magic (Winner's Dinners, last week) and can make Mr Winner a suit from 2.5 metres of cloth. What does he do with these suits? He's always photographed in scruff order regardless of where he is and the feeling of the other diners. Or is no one else allowed in when the great man is eating?
Robin Fletcher, Honiton, Devon
I was interested to read last week of your visit to the African Queen. As a visitor to Beaulieu for 25 years I can support your experience. It's always had a reputation which it has failed to live up to. Always busy but never consistent. Give me the Catalan under the railway station any time. It's full of the locals.
Lawrence Hunt, Preston
In Mr Winner's June 29 column he stated that Giorgio Locatelli is "a supremely talented cooker". I've been teaching English in France for over 28 years explaining to my students you can have a good butcher or baker but otherwise he is a good cook. However, as my old one has broken down, I could be interested in buying him. Does Giorgio run on gas or electricity? Better still, if MW is down my way he can take me out for dinner and I'll give him a free English lesson.
Mary Laing, Nantes
I suggest Michael motors out to Auberge du Lac at Brocket Hall to teach Jean-Christophe Novelli's staff how to make a Bellini. My wife's arrived made with champagne and peach schnapps. They had the cheek to charge £12 for it. I'd love to be there it they served this to him. Historic views, but the food wasn't worth the journey.
Michael Franklin, Hampstead
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